Singapore

Former diplomat Joseph Conceicao dies at age 95

Tributes pour in for pioneer who helped 'build the Singapore of today'

Mr Joseph Conceicao, a former Member of Parliament and pioneering diplomat, died on Tuesday night from a heart attack.

He was 95.

An MP for Katong from 1968 to 1984, he was also a diplomat between 1977 and 1994, serving twice as Singapore's ambassador to Russia, as well as ambassador to Indonesia and Australia.

In an interview with The Straits Times in 2001, Mr Conceicao recalled a planned meeting between founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow in 1990.

Mr Lee had waited in his hotel for three hours, but the Russian leader, who was in his last year in power, did not appear.

"Everyone panicked, including the Russian protocol officers, who disappeared from the hotel because they knew Mr Lee as a hot-tempered man," Mr Conceicao said.

But Mr Lee told him coolly: "Don't be agitated, Joe. You must realise this is a great opportunity for us. We are sitting and watching the vanishing of an empire!"

The two leaders finally met and the following year, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics collapsed.

Mr Conceicao was ambassador to Russia until 1994.

Mr Barry Desker, non-resident ambassador to the Vatican and Spain, remembers Mr Conceicao for his sound grasp of Singapore's key foreign policy interests, and having the confidence of Mr Lee and former Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee.

Ambassador-at-large Professor Tommy Koh said his friendship with Mr Conceicao went back to the 1960s.

"He was a very good diplomat and made many friends for Singapore," said Prof Koh. "And as a pioneer, he had helped to build the Singapore of today."

Mr Conceicao pursued his literary interest after retiring from the foreign service in 1994.

His 2004 autobiography, Flavours of Change: Destiny and Diplomacy, Recollections of a Singapore Ambassador, described his experiences of the Japanese Occupation.

He also chronicled Singapore's racial riots in the book Singapore and the Many-Headed Monster.

A linguist, he learned Russian in addition to English, Malay, Mandarin, Latin and his native Kristang, a Portuguese-Malay patois spoken by Portugese Malaccans.

Yesterday, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post that Mr Conceicao was always generous with his time and a fount of sound advice.

His nephew John Conceicao told ST: "He was the patriarch of the large Conceicao clan, loved his siblings and expressed it in words and actions. "

The wake will be held at 5000K Lagoon View from 1pm tomorrow and from 10am to 10pm on Saturday and Sunday.

He will be cremated at Mandai Crematorium next Monday at 12.05pm.

Mr Conceicao is survived by his wife Anita and three children.

Singapore Politics